68 child sexual abuse complaints in 7 years: What is wrong with Walayar?


The gruesome deaths of two girls in Walayar and shoddy investigation that led to acquittal of the accused have shaken the conscience of Kerala society, but statistics show that many such incidents are waiting to happen in Pudussery gram panchayat – the only civic body that comes under Walayar police station.

A Right to Information (RTI) query revealed that despite registering 68 child sexual abuse complaints here – the highest in any of the police stations in Kerala - since the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Abuses (POCSO) act came into being in 2012, only eight abusers have been punished so far. The low conviction rate means survivors have to live in fear of their lives while the abusers walk away scot free.

That is why social workers like Balamurali, who filed the RTI query, worried about the situation.

“Two innocent children lost their lives in 2017. We may see many such deaths if we fail to act now. It is a larger social issue. It is our responsibility to prevent child sexual abuse,” said Balamurali, who is a gram panchayat member and president of the action council formed to ensure justice to the Walayar sisters.

Balamurali's worries are not unfounded. At present 17 sexual assault survivors live in Pudussery gram panchayat, confirmed GB Syamkumar, Child Welfare Officer at the Walayar police station. “We registered 37 POCSO cases so far. Of them, 20 cases were recorded in 2017 alone. Only one case was registered in 2018. Two cases were registered so far in 2019,” he said.

Walayar sisters' deaths

68 child sexual abuse complaints in 7 years. What is wrong with Walayar?
The shed where the two sisters were found hanging.

It has been almost three years since her two daughters were found hanging from a wooden plank of their thatched hut. The elder daughter, aged 13, died on January 13, 2017. The younger one, aged 9, died 52 days later. The police had arrested five persons for rape, sexual assault and abetment of suicide and were charged under stringent provisions of the POCSO act.

The First Additional Sessions Judge (Special POCSO Court) of Palakkad district acquitted three of the accused – V Madhu, M Madhu and Shibu – for want of evidence on October 28. The court had earlier acquitted another accused – Pradeep Kumar – on September 30. It has not pronounced the verdict on the fifth accused yet because the trial is on in a juvenile court. The verdict has exposed lapses in the investigation and cast aspersions on the government and Kerala Police.

The sleepy village of the victims on the outskirts of Walayar town is part of Puthussery gram panchayat. It has a seizable scheduled caste population. The parents and the girls belong to the Pulaya community, which comes under Scheduled Caste.

Familial issues, alcoholism

68 child sexual abuse complaints in 7 years. What is wrong with Walayar?
Accused in Walayar case leave court after verdict.

Pudussery is a working class dominated gram panchayat. People here eke out a living working as daily wage labourers in farms, construction sites, factories and manufacturing units. Migrant labourers from Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and North India also live here.

Balamurali said abusers make use of the social fabric of Pudussery.

“Both husband and wife from almost all families go out to work everyday, leaving their children alone at home. Child abusers make most of this opportunity,” he said.

He said abusers take take advantage of parents' alcoholism. “Fight among alcoholic parents creates fissures in the family. After the break-up the husband and wife live separate, and the mothers have to bear the responsibility of child upbringing. Walayar has plenty of single mothers. These women have to toil to make a living and are forced to leave children alone at home,” he said.

He said abused children from Dalit communities were often denied of justice. “Police scuttle investigation if the victims are Dalits. It is a fact,” he said.

Lack of sex education

Sija George, who works as a counsellor at the school where the 13-year-old Walayar victim studied, said students lack proper sex education and awareness about sexual abuses.

She reported six sexual abuse cases from Pudussery gram panchayat alone after March, 2017.

“Abusers often go scot-free because of the inordinate delay in the legal process. If a 14-year-old is abused, the case will come up in the POCSO court after a minimum of four years. By the time, the survivor's parents may be seeking matrimonial alliances. The parents will then withdraw the case to avoid defamation,” she said.

Balamurali said lack of cultural activities in Pudussery gram panchayat too contribute in the increase in number of abuses. “The gram panchayat doesn't have a library. All cultural clubs are defunct. Cultural activities will help people reform and think,” he said.

Read the ground report from Walayar here.

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